Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to Western India. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they take this tour. Although we do our best to make sure that what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document that will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose content supersedes any information contained here.
ENTERING INDIA: United States citizens need a passport valid at the time of entry and with at least one blank page for an entry stamp, and a tourist visa.
Proof of a valid Yellow Fever vaccination is required only if you are coming from a country where the disease is endemic.
Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Indian embassy.
COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/india.html , and the CIA World Factbook background notes on India at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html.
PACE OF TOUR AND DAILY ROUTINE: Sunrise is around 7:00 a.m., and several of the birding sites are an hour or even two hours away from our hotel, so we’ll often be leaving our accommodation at 5:45 or 6:00 a.m. On several days we’ll start even earlier, possibly at 5:00 a.m. Most days we should finish at dusk, around 6:30 p.m, and we usually manage to have about a one-hour break before the checklist and dinner. There may be one or two days when we get back after dusk, requiring a shorter break before dinner.
In the Little Rann of Kutch, our early morning drives from the lodge will usually begin about 5:45 or 6:00 a.m. and typically last three or four hours; we’ll then return to the lodge for breakfast and a midday break. There will be the option of another excursion in the afternoon.
At Gir National Park, we may again leave the hotel before dawn, around 6:15 a.m. Snacks will be available before we leave the hotel. The game drives here usually last four to five hours, after which we will return to the hotel for a late breakfast or more likely brunch. On several days there will be a further game drive in the afternoon, usually from about 3:00 to 6:30 p.m.
There is a reasonable amount of walking involved on this tour, although none of it is particularly strenuous. We are not allowed on foot inside Gir Sanctuary (there are lions and leopards!), and instead we will use open-topped jeeps to explore the reserve. We will use similar vehicles to explore the Little Rann of Kutch but since there are no dangerous large animals here, we are also allowed to walk about, as we are at parts of Velavadar (Black Buck) National Park and at the sites we’ll visit around Bhuj.
HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.
They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid.
Please contact your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure.
The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/india
Malaria: The CDC recommends a Malaria prophylaxis. Chloroquine-resistant malaria is found in the region. Please consult your physician for the most suitable anti-malarial drug.
Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.
Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.
Miscellaneous: Other than the occasional mosquito, biting insects are not common on this tour. Tap water is not safe to drink and should be avoided at all times. Bottled water (which the leader provides at meal times and on our vehicle) and soft drinks are widely available. Mild upset stomachs, often brought on simply by a change of diet, can be hard to avoid in India.
CLIMATE: Daytime temperatures will range from about 78-95°F. However, temperatures can drop to 60°F during the early morning and late afternoon, when we will be out on game drives at Velavadar, in the Little Rann of Kutch, and in the Gir Lion Sanctuary and National Park. Moreover, since we’ll be exploring these areas in open-topped jeeps, the wind chill can make it feel quite cold.
Gujarat is essentially a flat state and we will not visit any mountain areas; the highest elevation we reach will be about 625 feet above sea level. A warm sweater and even a warm hat and gloves should prove useful for some of the early morning game drives. Gujarat is an arid state; it is unlikely to rain and the humidity is comfortably low throughout this tour.
ACCOMMODATION: In Jamnagar we will stay in a good hotel close to both the international and domestic airports. At Bhavnagar we will spend one night at a reasonable hotel, the best in the city. Owned by the local Maharaja and his family it’s an impressive building, but one that has sadly seen better days. The rooms are clean and have private facilities, including showers. We will spend one night here before travelling on to Gir Lion Sanctuary and National Park.
There is no accommodation inside the park and we will stay outside the reserve at a recently built safari camp. We will stay under canvass here – but all the comfortable tents are large, walk in ones on a permanent concrete base. All have electricity, large beds, tables and chairs and en suite bathrooms with a western toilet, shower and wash basin.
In Jamnagar, a large coastal city on the western side of Saurashtra, we will stay in a hotel in the city and all rooms here have en suite bathrooms with western toilets and showers with hot water. All of the rooms also have air-conditioning and a ceiling fan and all are clean. However the hotel is in the city centre and it can be very noisy outside. Even though we will request rooms away from the front of the hotel there are few of these and they cannot be guaranteed.
In the Bhuj area we will stay three nights in a small guest house owned and run by our local guide. There are very few rooms here although he’s planning to build more. If construction hasn’t finished by the time we visit several of us might have to stay in a simple hotel about 10 kilometres further away. In this case we will all have meals together. The guide’s guest house south of Bhuj is clean and conveniently located close to where we will search for both Grey Hypocolius and White-naped Tit. All the rooms have two beds but none are on suite – the showers and toilets are in the main hotel courtyard. If some of us have to go to a hotel in the nearby town all the rooms there are en suite and all have air-conditioning. This is a local hotel however and hot water is not available in the rooms other than in buckets that the staff will deliver by hand to the door. While the rooms are fairly clean this hotel is of a standard below that we would normally stay at on a WINGS tour.
Our accommodation at Dasada on the edge of the Little Rann is a privately run hotel with attractive grounds and individual cottages built in the local style scattered around the compound. All of these cottages are again clean, all have en suite facilities and all have western toilets. All of the rooms are air-conditioned and a few also have ceiling fans though the evenings are comfortably cool and it is unlikely that either will be used except perhaps during a midday break.
Leaving the Little Rann we will return to Jamnagar for our final night.
MEALS: We are served a wide variety of good-quality Indian food throughout and always includes a good selection of vegetarian dishes. In some of the places that we stay, meals are buffet-style, with several different dishes available, while in other places set meals are provided. However, a typical Indian set meal actually consists of a choice of three or four different dishes.
We appreciate that not everyone likes to eat Indian food (which can occasionally be a little bit spicy) every day or even at all. However, “western” food is not available at most of the places we stay, although several will provide western food on request. If a buffet is being served, it normally includes a western-style dish or two. If you require western-style food and cannot eat Indian food, please advise the WINGS office in advance and the leader once you are on the tour.
Drinks: Bottled water and/or a soft drink is provided at lunch and dinner, as is coffee or tea. Bottled water is also provided in our vehicles. All other drinks or personal drinking water for use in your room, etc., are the responsibility of the individual participant.
Note: Gujarat is a dry state, where the consumption of alcohol is prohibited. Special permits can be obtained, but even then alcoholic beverages are not widely available and cannot be drunk in public places – and that includes hotel restaurants!
TRANSPORT: We will use a fleet of comfortable small vehicles, such as a Toyota Innova or similar vehicle. Three people plus the driver will ride in each of these vehicles, and there’s room for their luggage at the rear. In the Little Rann of Kutch, and again in the Gir Lion Sanctuary and National Park, we will use a fleet of open-topped jeeps. These invariably have poor suspension, and the unpaved tracks inside the reserve are rough and often strewn with large boulders. An inflatable cushion might prove useful, and in the past, in similar circumstances elsewhere, people have occasionally borrowed a pillow from their hotel bedroom.
Updated: February 2016